If you want to build a kick-ass computer lab in your home, you’ll need to start with a kick-ass computer. But with so many ways to get good computers these days, you’ll have to make a decision:
Buying a pre-built computer? Or do you buy your own parts and build the computer with your bare hands?
Over the past 10 years I’ve made both of those choices, so I’m in prime position to guide you through this process. Let’s talk about what you’ll need to build your own PC, what it’s like to order a custom pre-built PC online, and what I recommend.
What do you need to build your own gaming PC?
Building a computer is hard work, but it can be extremely rewarding. It offers you complete control in the process, and really makes your computer feel like your own creation. It also makes upgrading your computer easier because you know exactly how each piece and part fits together.
Speaking of parts, let’s start with everything you’ll need to build a complete computer and be able to test it yourself:
- Processor (CPU)
- Cooling processor
- Base board
- Multiple sticks of memory (RAM)
- Hard drive
- Graphics card (GPU)
- Power Supply (PSU)
- Thermal paste
- Anti-static wrist strap (optional, but recommended)
- A copy of Windows (or other operating system)
To get parts, I recommend PCPartPicker. It’s a great resource for beginners and will let you compare different parts so you can get exactly what you want (and it’ll also tell you if any of your parts are incompatible with each other). You can also take our checklist above and buy the individual parts from an online retailer like Amazon, or pick them up at a local store like Micro Center.
Going into this process, you need to know that computers are complex and immutable. One wrong move could cause you problems when you try to boot your computer for a test. And if you’re not careful about your static electricity build-up, you could end up accidentally frying one of your expensive components.
This process takes hours of focus and precision. If it’s your first time, I recommend bringing a trusted friend with you – especially if they’ve built a computer before.
As for the build process, you’ll want a flat surface and either an iPad, laptop, or phone so you can watch a tutorial. The best way to build a computer is with an accompanying video showing you exactly what to do and your order of operations.
The ECPU video above is an amazing tool for beginners. They begin by detailing the parts and why they are important before moving on to the actual construction. There are also time stamps in the video that make it easy to skip. I like this tutorial from PC Centric too.
It’s worth noting that all PC builds are slightly different depending on the parts you choose. If you’re struggling with a part you have that the person in your video tutorial doesn’t, try reading the instructions or – even better – looking for a build video with your particular case, motherboard, or processor.
How do you get a customized pre-built computer?
Outside of building your own computer, you can either buy a pre-built one that comes out of a box at a store like Best Buy, or you can customize one at an online store like iBuyPower. The first one can be good, but I recommend you to buy a habit.
All you have to do is go to the iBuyPower website (there are many websites like this, such as CyberPowerPC) and open their computer configurator. You can choose your parts from a long list and even test how your hypothetical build will perform popular modern games like Elden Ring.
As long as all your parts match – it will warn you if the graphics card you want is too big for your case, for example – you can check. Then, an expert will collect your parts for you, build the computer, and ship it to your house. All you’ll have to do when it arrives is remove the weird, giant packing peanuts in the case and pop it in.
It’s all very convenient, and it also eased the massive financial burden that is a brand new computer on me. I was able to purchase my iBuyPower PC using the site’s built-in Affirm partnership. Confirmed my credit and gave me a cheap rate and a 12 month payment plan. Overall, I paid an extra $189 for my $2,324 PC, but it was well worth it for the ability to upgrade my aging desktop a whole year early.
If you have the cash – or a really good credit card – you can of course buy the whole thing upfront. But if the cost of the computer is the biggest barrier for you, getting a custom one might make things easier if you go the route I did with monthly payments.
Which one do I recommend?
In 10 years of building machines, I have never encountered a major problem during one of my builds. I never fried anything, and my computer always booted up on the first or second try. Many more talented PC builders I know have not been so lucky, but I have had some great experiences. I also really enjoyed the process, and originally imagined it would be something I would do every several years for the rest of my life.
However, after several builds and updates – and also a pandemic – I wanted to try something simple and easy. I wanted a perfect build for work and play, and that’s exactly what I got from the custom order PC I got in 2021. I still picked out all my parts, but I didn’t have to do any of the work. Most importantly, I was able to pay off the computer for a year instead of before, which was really helpful for my family during the pandemic.
When I get a new computer in many years, I will buy a regular one again, no question. It’s just simpler in almost every sense, and I’ve had a great experience with iBuyPower. However, I still really value the experience I had building my previous computers. I know how they label, and I will eventually be able to upgrade my current computer because I know how to carefully install computer parts.
If this is your first computer and you love to learn, you’ll really appreciate the experience of doing it yourself. That said, if you really just want to play with your friends or take advantage of Steam sales, buying a custom build is the simplest way to get into PC gaming. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s effortless, and it just works.